1. Respect the local customs
I know it sounds like common sense, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of people that ignore this. When I was travelling through Morocco there were Western women ignoring advice to cover their shoulders and legs, and walking around in short shorts and tank tops then complaining when the local men were looking at them. You wouldn’t walk through London topless with your tits flapping about would you? (Actually I’d hope they don’t flap!) Well this is the local version of that.
2. Be prepared for catcalls and unwanted advances
I’m not going to tell you that you need to wear a burlap sack and dress as unattractively as possible. As above, respect the customs but ultimately, no matter what you wear, or how you look, unwanted male advances will happen, especially in places where you look different and in some parts of the world you should remember that the genders are still not equal and solo females are seen as provocative. My advice in dealing with it? Carry on as you are, act as though you haven’t even noticed.
3. Trust your gut
If someone seems overly friendly, someone’s offered to give you a lift and you’re unsure, go with your gut instinct -some things just aren’t worth the risk.
4. Research ahead of arrival
As exotic as it seems to just spontaneously fly off somewhere at the drop of a hat, it exposes you to additional costs and a schedule where you’re not making the most of your time. I don’t believe in organising everything down to a T but at the same time have an idea of what you want to see and do, organise at least your first night’s accommodation and be aware of anything that has to be booked in advance.
5. Carry the address of where you are staying in the local language
This is a good one if you’re worried about getting lost or getting back. I always carry a business card of the hotel/hostel or have my hosts write it down. Thankfully I’ve never needed it but you need to think worst case scenario – what if you get really lost? You can just show the address to a cab driver
6. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself
You know those odd people that approach you and start conversations on the train? You can get a lot of those travelling, especially local men that act concerned and want to help you find x, y, whatever. Don’t be afraid to say no, or remove yourself from the situation. Us British people especially just beat around the bush a lot of the time.
7. Walk with confidence/Act as though you know the area.
You could be an expat well versed in the local area for all they know; you could have a big burly 6ft rugby player boyfriend meeting you soon. Act confident in what you are doing and where you are going and people will be less likely to bother you.
8. Choose your hosts carefully
Platforms such as Couchsurfing and Airbnb are a great way to travel, however there are a lot of opportunist guys on these sites. Be careful. You can read my guide on staying with locals here. I would recommend staying with females or couples, and ensuring you choose hosts with good past reviews.
9. Arrive at your destination in the day when possible.
Everything is more stressful at night – from a safety perspective for one thing, you don’t want to be dragging your suitcase around empty streets while lost. But also from a coordinating perspective – with your host/hostel and with local transport – a late arrival can limit you in getting trains and local public transport and then lead to more costs if you end up having to get a cab.
10. If someone is bothering you then head towards a public place
Hopefully you won’t need this. The only time I’ve had a problem with this was in Santa Barbara of all places when a guy wouldn’t leave me alone on the beach so when we passed a group of guys playing volleyball I confronted him and said I’d scream if he didn’t go away. He soon left when the guys looked around. Head towards a busy area. There is no shame in notifying someone in a shop or bar if you are really concerned. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
11. Develop a thick skin
The cat calls, stares and difference of opinion can get to some people. Accept it for what it is – a difference of opinion, people who have been bought up with different belief systems… And move on from it. These people will have forgotten about it in a day and so should you.
12. Carry a photocopy of your passport at all times
In some countries it is a requirement to always have your passport with you. Penalties for not doing so can be as extreme as imprisonment. So what if you were to lose it? A scan kept in your suitcase will help for the worst case scenario if you have to seek help or go to an embassy.
13. Always ensure you have an amount of cash with you
This should also be common sense, but again, don’t solely depend on your cards. My bank blocked my accounts for suspicious activity in Japan after months of travelling around with no problem. You don’t want to put yourself in the situation where you have no cash. In some countries, U.S. Dollars can be used and come in handy.
14. Learn a few words of the local language
Don’t underestimate how useful it is to say a few words of the local language – even just being able to point a map and say “excuse me ? ” the locals will appreciate you trying and of course it helps you too if you can communicate on even a tiny level, rather than miming everything like Charlie Chaplin in a silent film.
15. Let people at home have an idea of where you are via social media
You don’t need to be a check in wanker at every place, but knowing you are in X Town in Thailand rather than just generally knowing you’re somewhere in Thailand is helpful should you need help (God forbid!)
16. Enjoy yourself!
Don’t let safety worries put a dampener on any trips you’re considering. Most are incident free as long as you keep your wits about you. Travel leads to great friendship and life experiences and most people are kind and helpful on the road. There’s a reason so many of us backpack alone!
Fellow travellers, any tips for newbies?
New travellers – welcome! Any other concerns?